In his most recent Huffington Post piece titled Parking While Black, Prof. Bennett L. Gershman reviews a recent Circuit Court decision, United States v. Johnson, which is currently pending re-hearing at the 7th Circuit after it initially upheld the lower court’s decision. Prof. Gershman raises a fair question: “[Are the courts] about to decide if police have another legal method for harassing black citizens[?]”
In the middle of a Wisconsin winter with streets covered in snow, local Milwaukee police decided to harass a parked car with four black passengers inside after one just returned from a liquor store, citing Milwaukee parking ordinance (alleging the car was parked too close to a crosswalk), pulling all passengers out of the car, handcuffing them, searching the entire car and finding a gun as a result.
While the court’s majority sided with the government and held that the police did not violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights and reasoned that police had probable cause (based on the parking ordinance) and as such “could forcibly detain the car and search the occupants,” Judge David Hamilton delivered a worth-to-read dissent, calling the police conduct “terrifying,” “outrageous,” and “extraordinary.” As Prof. Gershman points out, Judge Hamilton carried on by saying:
Imagine that the police tried that approach in Milwaukee’s affluent east side. Citizens would be up in arms, and rightly so.” … “No police officer could expect to keep his job if he treated a standing car as worthy of a [forcible] stop.”
Prof. Gershman concludes that:
The panel decision was vacated last month, and reargument has been ordered. It remains to be seen whether the entire circuit court will see it as Hamilton did or whether “parking while black” will sadly become as common a phrase as “driving while black.”